Wines for the holidays!

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Submitted by barnaby33 on December 1, 2010 - 7:59am

One of the wine boards on which I participate had a discussion of wines for Turkey day. Whats interesting is that most of the comments centered around, wine choice not important. Thanksgiving is about food and family most guests at the table will be thirsty but not particularly knowledgeable. It was great to see winos not obsessing over their wine choices.

So what are you all drinking right now? Has anyone else noticed that Syrah has become the new Merlot and there are AMAZING deals to be had at all price points on it?

Submitted by no_such_reality on December 1, 2010 - 9:49am.

Here's my recommendation. Take the wine spectator and throw it away. Anything pimped in it is over priced and reflects that one particular taste.

Just go for a drive in California or even Oregon's wine areas. Pick any road, stop at the tasting rooms on it. Drive in to the vineyard, no tasting room, no problem, just ask.

You'll find great wines that you like.

That's what counts.

For real fun on the holidays, do a blind tasting. Go to TJs, BevMo, or TotalWine, get some dreaded two buck chuck, a $4.99 bottle, some more expensive bottles and your favorites and maybe a nice wine spectator 90+, open them, let them air a bit and then see who really likes what when they don't know what it is.

Submitted by jpinpb on December 1, 2010 - 1:46pm.

I was at Henry's and picked up a few bottles of Cycles Gladiator just for the heck of it. Was surprised. Not too bad.

Submitted by scaredyclassic on December 1, 2010 - 1:48pm.

i tried the new BLACK BOX premium wine over the weekend in a box 4 liters 20 dollars. I liked it. i like the box. i saw BIG HOUSE RED also comes in a box now and i liked that in the bottle. I like wine ina box because you can keep drinking and be unclear how much you've had.

Submitted by Rich Toscano on December 1, 2010 - 4:33pm.

Josh, you will be unsurprised to hear that on Thanksgiving I busted out a bottle of Grant Burge 06 Draycott Shiraz. My dad said, "You are a beastly little toad, but you sure can pick wine." (Yes, that is an exact quote). I gave you full credit for the wine picking though.

I look forward to discussing the Syrah glut with you further...

Submitted by sd_matt on December 1, 2010 - 9:42pm.

Funny thing

I was listening to NPR yesterday about this subject.

I like the advise...look for a bottle with a fancy looking label that costs $15 or less.

According to some study or another doubling or tripling the price of your selection doesn't translate to double or triple the preference in a blind taste test.

In other words you might be surprised at just how well Two Buck Chuck does in the Pepsi Challenge.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 1, 2010 - 9:55pm.

Gotta disagee wholeheartedly with NSR,
While personal tastes vary I have never been disappointed with any wine rated 90 or above by WS or Parker that I paid $30 or less for. While they may not be perfect for my palate they tend to be well made and well balanced wines.

If you buy in tasting rooms as a novice you will undoubtly end up with a bunch of sweet wines you will never find the time to drink again. Prices in tasting rooms are the highest anywhere. Most wines I purchase are 25 to 50% below what they sell for in tasting rooms.

As for BevMo be careful when they have their buy 1 get another for 5 cents sales. Those wines are usually worth less than 5 cents.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 1, 2010 - 10:27pm.

Hope you are having a field day like me acquiring great wines at great prices. The wines I am buying right now are Brunellos and Barolos for my cellar. Lots of great wines out there under $40 these days worthy of aging.

Syrahs/Shiraz have been fun also. Found a few solid choices for $10 to 15 (StumpJump and Ball Buster) as well as plenty of really nice Syrahs from Paso Robles at great prices too.

Submitted by faterikcartman on December 1, 2010 - 11:00pm.

Sadly we, and my wife's parents, have indulged in rather expensive wines for several years now. It is hard to go backwards and the search for value wines is never ending. We just did a tasting and couldn't believe the quality vis-a-vis the price. Curiously there was a backstory. The wine was mislabelled; hence we scored a good wine at half price.

To go with the turkey we had Chardonnays including Far Niente, Mer Soleil, and finished the evening with a 1955 or 1960 Cockburn port (unbelievable).

While reds are where it's at (but not Merlot or Syrah for us) we did score six bottles of Kistler over the weekend -- which is a whole other world of Chardonnay, IMO.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 2, 2010 - 8:45am.

I suffer from the same but am fortunate in that I have a large group to share wines with up in OC many of whom have been collecting for 20 or more years. Had Kistler many times. You should try the Varner Bee Block and Home Block Chard's. They are amazing and you can pick em up for under $50.

Make sure to sign up for emails from:

They have many amazing deals coming out. If you like french burgundy's check out

You will get daily emails from all of them and can pick and choose what you like. They buy cellars and often have amazing deals on hard to get aged and properly cellared wines.

Submitted by Downtowner on December 2, 2010 - 11:42am.

Due to my wife not eating warm-blooded animals (she had Salmon) I choose Pinot Noir for T-giving dinner. I prefer the central coast Pinots as they are smooth and bit more subtle than the Oregon Pinots that would probably overpower turkey. Also they are a bit lower priced than the Sonoma wines. My favorites include Babcock, Melville, Foley, Evans Ranch.

As for Chardonnay, the best I've had in the past 2 years is the Ramey Hudson Vineyards.

There is a glut of Syrah on the market right now, but you have to careful, some of it is terrible, but along with that great deals can be found!

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 2, 2010 - 1:56pm.

The 2007 Melville Pinot is awesome.

Submitted by ltokuda on December 2, 2010 - 3:15pm.

I understand where both nsr and sdr are coming from. I think the difference in opinion is a result of the type of fan you are of wines. The casual fan may like one type of wine while a student of wine may prefer another. You can probably find discrpancies like this in any subject area.

For example, a lot of people, including myself, love to watch movies. But not everyone loves to study them. When you poll professional movie critics, they generally regard "Citizen Kane" as the greatest movie of all time. I watched it and at the end of the day, I DIDN'T GET IT. I consider myself a bit more than a casual fan because I do re-watch movies with the director's commentary on and I do make an effort to understand the nuances of film making. But I still don't understand "Citizen Kane" ...

Another example: An architect friend of mine took a group of us to the Salk Institute to look at the amazing architecture of the building. He went on an on about how cool it was. Everyone else thought is was butt ugly.

So back to wines ... I think that most casual wine fans judge a wine by the following qualities (in order of importance):

1) balance of flavor
2) level of smoothness
3) complexity

I think the balance of flavors is probably one of most important quality for a casual wine fan. At the end of the day, you want the wine to "taste good". The other important quality is the right level of smoothness. There has to be enough of an edge to let you know you're not drinking grape juice. But a mouth puckering powerhouse would be beyond overkill for most people. The least important factor is probably complexity. But I think people really do appreciate a complex wine, if only sub-consciously.

Students of wine judge a wine on a much greater array of qualities (finish, intensity, mouthfeel, aging potential, etc). I also think students tend to value complexity more and have a wider appreciation for levels of smoothness.

Reviews by Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate are all done by students of wine. Their judging criteria is not the same as a casual fan's criteria. So they might give 90 points to a big, bold, complex cab that had some deficiencies in flavor balance and smoothness. But a casual fan might try the same wine and just decide that it doesn't "taste good" or be turned off by the tannins.

I used to wonder why certain winery's had such a huge fan following and were able to command such high prices. Even if their wines didn't taste "expensive", people seemed to love them. After trying enough of them, I realized that these winery's were great at creating wines for the casual fan (which is most of us). Not huge. Not intense. Not overly complex. Just very well balanced in terms of flavor and smoothness.

If you are a student of wine or would like to be one, then Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate are great resources to help you learn. Their ratings have served me well for many years. If that doesn't work for you, then going wine tasting or getting recommendations from people with similar tastes as yours is a great way to go.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 2, 2010 - 4:28pm.

Well said. A while back Josh wrote a similarly great post about there being a difference between liking wine and appreciating the wine. If I knew where it was would link to it. It's another good analogy to look at the difference between "casual wine drinkers" and "students of wine"

Submitted by DWCAP on December 2, 2010 - 4:38pm.

So what are you all drinking right now? Has anyone else noticed that Syrah has become the new Merlot and there are AMAZING deals to be had at all price points on it?

-no, but I dont buy a whole lot of wine. However, if you had a few examples, I would be happy to test your theory. :-)

Submitted by ltokuda on December 2, 2010 - 6:33pm.

I think the Melville Pinot Noir's are some of the best values around. I'm not sure if you can find the 2008's anymore but the 2009's are still available. They seem to offer 3 lines of Pinot's that you can buy at stores: Verna's for $20, Estate for $25, and Carrie's for $40(?). You can find the first 2 at the Wine Exchange (

My favorite Pinot used to be the Lucia Gary's Vineyard Pinot Noir. But that costs about $45 and I think Melville's Pinot's are just as good but at a lower price.

I tend to like my Pinot's balanced with a little more fruit and subdued earthiness. That fits the profile of all of the recommendations above.

As for white wines, I'm not that into them but do drink them occasionally. With that in mind, I did like Melville's 2008 Chardonnay's (Verna's for $17 and Estate for $23). I also liked Chateau St. Jean's 2007 Belle Terre for $20. I don't like "oaky" Chardonnay's so none of these are "oaky".

Submitted by ltokuda on December 2, 2010 - 7:38pm.

In case you're planning to have steaks over the holidays, I'll throw out a few suggestions. Every year, I like to buys some Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon's to cellar. My first introduction to the wine was their 2001 vintage, which could be had for just $32. Since then, they've had so many blockbuster years and great reviews that the price for the 2007's are now at $50 (release price was originally $60). The Don Melchor used to be a steal, but now I think its still a good value compared to the California Cabs.

Our favorite wine to have with a steak is the Numanthia (Toro Numanthia) at $45-$50. If you're into big wines, this is a great one to try. I haven't tried the current release yet (2007) but the previous releases (back to 2003) have all been very good. We refer to Steak & Numanthia as the perfect pairing.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 3, 2010 - 5:35pm.

Dont know if you have ever had the Numanthia Termanthia but I just got an email for it from Amazing Grapes. Parker gave it 97+ points. Just checked winesearcher and they have the best deal on it if you use their 15% off (AG45) which is good today and tomorrow. It isnt cheap but I'm sure it would be a real treat for the holidays.

I tried to go on hiatus from wine buying today. I lasted less than an hour. the deals out there are irresistable and the emails keep coming!

Submitted by ltokuda on December 4, 2010 - 2:46am.

Thanks sdr! I just bought one from amazing grapes with the coupon. I've been collecting Termanthia's every year since their 2004 release but I've never drunk any of them. I feel like I should cellar them for at least 10 years to give them their due respect. The wait really kills me, though. Luckily, WS and WA say that the '07 will mature sooner so that might be the first Termanthia I'll ever taste.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 4, 2010 - 9:53am.

You are welcome! Though I have never had any myself I am sure it is awesome. I defintely agree on the cellaring if you can wait. There is something amazing about drinking properly cellared, well aged wines.

If you are a fan of Spanish wines here is another tip for you. Have you ever had Alto Moncayo wines? They make 3 different garnachas at 3 price levels (under 30, 50ish and 100ish). They are all awesome. The tip is that the under $30 bottle is pretty close to as good as the more expensive ones. It is called Alto Moncayo Veraton and can be had under $30 if you can find it as it is an allocated wine. I drank an 07 and 08 last week which was a treat. I know La Costa Wine has some 08 right now if you are interested. If you can make it up to Wine Exchange ( they have it for $24. It is drinking well now but in a year or two it should be drinking incredibly well.

Submitted by jficquette on December 5, 2010 - 10:04am.

Red Dagger anyone?

Submitted by jpinpb on December 5, 2010 - 10:24am.

I'm a novice when it comes to wine. I stumbled upon the Cycles Gladiator. I checked out their website. Looks like the Cabernet Sauvignon is only 89 points according to Wine Enthusiast. But for $13, that's not so bad.

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 5, 2010 - 10:47am.

An 89 point rating for a $13 is actually very good. Of course, the bottomline is if you like it and its cheap keep drinking it.

Also before you buy more than a bottle or two of anything always check out

Be a smart wine shopper as well as a smart home shopper!

I did and I found it available for $7 numerous places.

Happy Holidays



Submitted by jpinpb on December 5, 2010 - 11:48am.

Thanks for the link, sdr. I didn't pay $13 for it b/c it was on sale at Henry's and that's how I stumbled upon it in the first place. Thought I'd give it a try. Since I liked it, I went to their website. That's when I found it it rated 89 and saw it normally sells for $13. Still not so bad, considering the rating.

Submitted by XBoxBoy on December 6, 2010 - 2:00pm.

Any suggestions for where to buy wines to be shipped to relatives on the east coast for Christmas? (Maryland) Who's a good/reliable online web merchant?



Submitted by sdrealtor on December 6, 2010 - 3:52pm.

You will need to confirm wine can be shipped to Maryland. If it can be, I would recommend Wine Exchange for great wines, prices and service. Try to order such that the wine ships on a Monday to avoid them sitting in a hot warehouse over a weekend. Its less of a concern this time of year but better safe than sorry.

Submitted by temeculaguy on December 6, 2010 - 9:09pm.

I have a daily swill favorite right now that is cheaper than the boxed wines and comes in a bottle. Vina Maipo, a Chilean Cab, for $7 for 1.5 liters (two bottles). Unfotunately I've only found it for that price at Sam's Club and San Diego doesn't have many Sam's Clubs. Up here, the Sam's Club is just an offramp away from Costco and this time of year, going to Costco is a bit of a pain due to the crowds and the fact that it is adjacent to the mall.

So for all the box wine fans, take the next step and feel good about it since you can satisfy your taste buds and you wallet. This is actually cheaper, comes to $3.50 a bottle and it's more than drinkable, it's my new favorite nightstand bottle. Of all the 1.5 liter low priced daily swills (yellowtail, woodbridge, etc.) it is the cheapest and the tastiest. They have it in a few varieties, maybe even a white, but I have only tried the cab. I've often found South American cabs to be a value for dailies

Sam's club doesn't have as good of a selection as costco, but it's different and changes more so it's worth a look.

Submitted by ltokuda on December 7, 2010 - 8:06pm.

Thanks for the tips, sdr. I used to find some good deals on some wines that I couldn't find locally (at a good price) anymore. I orderd some of the 2006 Concha Y Toro Don Melchor from out of state. Had to pay for shipping but the lack of taxes made up for it. I also ordered Melville's 2008 Carrie's Pinot Noir. I did try the Alto Moncayo a few years ago but I've determined that I'm not a fan of Granacha.

Submitted by ltokuda on December 7, 2010 - 8:08pm.

I also like drinking the 2006 or 2007 Nipozzano Chianti's. I saw them at Costco for a while for about $18. But there seems to be a lot of places selling them on

Submitted by sdrealtor on December 7, 2010 - 8:22pm.

Gotta love wine searcher! If I'm buying a bottle or two I try to support local wine shops unless its an expensive bottle. Anymore than that and I look for the dealio!

Submitted by bearishgurl on December 7, 2010 - 11:58pm.

walterwhite wrote:
i tried the new BLACK BOX premium wine over the weekend in a box 4 liters 20 dollars. I liked it. i like the box. i saw BIG HOUSE RED also comes in a box now and i liked that in the bottle.

Lol, scaredy, I can see you feeling right at home gazing at that BIG HOUSE RED box, lol . . . I'm a box fan myself! I've seen the BLACK BOX at Albertson's. I'm fortunately able to purchase boxes of my fav white zin for $6-$8 for FIVE litres.

walterwhite wrote:
I like wine ina box because you can keep drinking and be unclear how much you've had.

This is so true, scaredy :). Pressing a button is so-o-o-o-o-o easy and there's no broken bottles in your recycle bin :)) I thin my wine down with 2 litre bottles of seltzer water and ice cubes so even if I'm "unclear" on the amount drank, whatever amount I should have had or would have had was cut by half . . . :D

So my reoccurring "guilt" over being a "wine-cooler lush" has been "managed."

I'll try the BIG HOUSE RED box for my guests for the holidays! Thanks for the tip, scaredy!

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